Harry Skelton has paid tribute to his brother Dan’s role in helping him to secure a first National Hunt jockeys’ championship.
All but a handful of Skelton’s 150-plus winners this year have been trained by Dan, with the duo having formed a potent partnership since striking out on their own, with the support of their Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper father Nick, nearly 10 years ago.
Skelton sealed the title after a thrilling battle with defending champion Brian Hughes, who eventually had to concede defeat on Thursday after time ran out.
“Everyone knows I ride for Dan and I don’t have too many other outside rides, but the planning and everything has been down to Dan. He knew exactly what needed to be done. Without him planning and doing all that, I wouldn’t have been in the position,” said Skelton.
“We’re brothers and blood is thicker than water. The two of us have always done it together – that’s the way it is. He wants me to achieve and become the best I can and I want the same for him.
“Our owners have been fantastic and very loyal, I’m very grateful to everyone that has reached out and given me a chance to ride a winner for them, especially over the last eight weeks. It’s been fantastic and hopefully I’ve repaid them when they have booked me and given them a winner as well.”
Skelton’s progress has not been a straight line with his total dwindling to just eight winners in the 2012/13 before Dan took the plunge and set up on his own, sparking a renaissance in his brother’s riding career in the process.
He explained: “When I lost my claim, that year was all right, it was the year after it just came to a bit of a halt. I rode eight winners one season and it was disappointing.
“I was at Paul Nicholls’ for nine years and I suppose as one door closes, another one opens, but luckily Dan came along at the right time and started training. It was like we were both starting again and without him, I wouldn’t be sat here in the position I’m in.
“All my eggs were in the Lodge Hill basket, dad set us up and it was down to us then to basically not mess it up.
“It never really crossed my mind to give up. It was a hard year, but it was a year, not four or five years. I was lucky that Dan started and if he hadn’t, who knows what might have happened.
“The year before Dan started, I was riding out for as many people as I could, six days a week, travelling up and down the country and I have so much respect for all the lads in the weighing room who do that now.”
Skelton admits the winning mentality is a family trait and his father provided him with some sage advice gleaned from his breathtaking Olympic success in 2016 as he began his title push in earnest over the last few weeks.
He said: “Obviously dad has had a massive impact on my life. He’s been there and done it. It was only a little while ago John Hales, who is a family friend (and owner), said ‘you’ve got to ask your dad what he went through in that final round at Rio and how he handled it’.
“He was just there to support me really, he didn’t add any pressure on to it. You’ve just got to do everything you would normally do, that’s what he said. Take it day be day, race by race and try not to get ahead of yourself. Every race was important and every ride was important, concentrate on that moment in time and do the best you can from one race to the next.
“Me and Dan have been brought up with horses, in showjumping and racing, and it was about winning. That was our life, that’s all we’ve ever known.”
Skelton’s wife Bridget Andrews is also no stranger to success, being a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey herself, but the champion believes his title campaign has perhaps been toughest on those around him.
He said: “Bridget’s been amazing, the last three weeks have been difficult. It’s probably been harder on Bridget, my dad and Dan than it has on myself because they can only get me to the races and get me on the horse, then it’s down to me.
“When you really want something, it’s amazing what the mind can do. You do think about it all the time – it’s 24/7 with a battle like it’s been – but I was happy being there as it’s something I was trying to achieve.
“Of course (I will try to defend the title). Every day you are trying to win, not a lot is going to change because I go out every day and try my best. I’ll just give it everything and you just want to keep riding winners – that’s all you can do.”